I’m back after a long hiatus. It’s good to be home.
As I write the delicious earthy scent of roasting potatoes mingles with the heady aroma of fresh-made chai, tempting odors wafting leisurely and sensually through my house. My kitchen is redolent of spices and ghee, olive oil and garlic: comfort smells from my past mingling with comfort scents of my present. My mouth is watering in anticipation while somewhere deep in my recesses an inner smile has formed.
Since last Thanksgiving – even a few months before – I’ve been on one incredible roller-coaster ride. There’s no way to sugar-coat it. From a devastating breakup to recurring bouts of illness to my sister’s sudden and serious hospitalization to my mother’s decline and death to my uncle’s death days later to my thyroid cancer diagnosis to increased certainty that my job will be eliminated in the upcoming year…hell yeah, it’s been a whirlwind of chaotic and emotional messiness. Just writing out that torturous run-on sentence – the breathiness of which befits the tidal wave of events churning one upon the other – makes me sigh with weariness.
This post is not about indulgent woe-is-me whining. It’s about gratitude, and about giving thanks for the goodness, the grace, the strength, the courage, the hope, and most importantly, the love, that infused this past year. It’s about the lessons learned, and of the ups that made the downs bearable.
This is the year I finally accepted that I stand alone. That’s not a negative; it doesn’t mean I don’t have friends, family, and a wonderful circle of people whom I love, and who love me. It simply means I no longer hold my breath waiting…for a soul mate, an elusive partner. I still dream, I still long, I still believe in future promise, in connections and in love of all kinds, but these thoughts no longer color my actions. I’ve learned to live in a more fully-realized present. And, by embracing my aloneness, I’ve firmly taken control of my own life, my own destiny: my finances, my health, my career. For becoming empowered, I am grateful.
This is the year I made peace with the past. I found compassion for a parent whose compassion for me had dissolved long ago; in the end, I could not turn away from a scared and dying woman who had parented me the only way she knew how, and whose actions helped shape the person I’ve become. I looked my brother in the eyes and explained why I couldn’t forge a relationship with him, not now – maybe not ever – and he, surprisingly, seemed to understand. And I discovered unexpected friendship in a former lover after a breakup so traumatic that I landed on a therapist’s couch, grappling with my grief; I never imagined we’d eventually refashion ourselves as loving friends. But during the height of this crazy year, when every event seemed to converge into an unmanageable chaotic frightening jumble, he was the one who extended his arms, offered his ear and his shoulder, and opened his home, giving my bruised and battered soul a respite from the world. For learning there is sweetness and love after pain and loss, I am grateful.
And this is the year I fully comprehended how truly fortunate I’ve been, how truly fortunate I am. I have my beautiful family. I have my health, I have my friends, I have my yoga practice. I have everything I need and everything I want, right here, right now, as I sit in my kitchen writing and enjoying the aromas while my children sleep; even in silence their joyful energy fills my home. The past year has taught me to take nothing for granted, to live in the moment, to love with abandon, to let go of that which does not serve me. And for that, most of all, I am grateful.
Many blessings to you on this day of giving thanks. Namaste.
I’m back after taking a hiatus to deal with the deaths of my mother and her brother, my uncle. Both had lived long, productive lives; they were close-knit to the end, spending their last years together in the same facility and dying within 12 days of each other late summer. Because they were cremated, we were able to delay formal joint services until the entire clan could gather at the family plot in New Jersey. Finally, this past weekend we did so, reminiscing and remembering in a perfect, warmly-lit Indian summer setting.
I received an antique lamp from my mother’s estate that was too fragile to ship. Therefore, instead of flying to New Jersey, I set out in my little red car, embarking on a long, lone road trip armed with books on CDs, music, and my private thoughts.
I had a lot to think about. My mother and I, at the end, struggled through a difficult relationship, eventually coming to an uneasy truce that involved not discussing the issues that were dividing us. I was the last family member to be with her. She died disappointed in me because of my lifestyle (unmarried, and worse – divorced) and because I was unable to reconcile with my brother, her favorite child. I felt her disappointment blanketing me as her energy faded; still, I held her hand and sang hymns to soothe her as she called out for my brother.
Although only a few months have passed, already time is working its magic, sanding down the roughest edges of my memory. My mother was no saint, but she was no sinner, either. Like all of us, she muddled through the best she could. She was, if anything, a victim of her own rigid upbringing, held captive by biases and weaknesses that she could not forsake.
With so many conflicting emotions in my mind, I had no idea what to say at the services, what I could say that would be honest and true and would honor both my mother and uncle.
Somewhere between Atlanta and Arlington, one of my favorite pieces, Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock, poured out of my car stereo. As a once-serious clarinetist, I immediately flashed back to the days of playing this piece, feeling in my bones the absolute joy that twisted my heart over certain beautifully-turned phrases and achingly-perfect harmonies. And I suddenly knew the direction my words would take.
My mother was the original Tiger Mom, waking me early to practice piano and clarinet, pushing and pushing, not necessarily with kindness, but rather with a grim determination.
My uncle, also a clarinetist, was the exact opposite. He stoked my enthusiasm with his own kindness and encouragement. He played duets with me, laughing as we (I) squeaked and squawked our way through Mozart, showing me how much fun making (even imperfect) music could be.
Together my mother and my uncle gave me an immeasurable gift: My mother bestowed upon me the tools and technique to gain a modest mastery over these instruments. My uncle imparted the love of music. Without the physical mastery my mother required, I would be unable to play the notes. And if I couldn’t play the notes, I couldn’t transcend the notes to fully understand and absorb my uncle’s love of music.
Mother and mentor. Yin and yang. Dark and light.
When it was my turn to speak, I thanked them both for giving me this intertwined gift.
Afterwards, as I packed my car to leave, I realized the contrast between my mother’s and uncle’s gifts had been manifested physically. I was heading home with two fitting mementos: the antique lamp from my mother and my uncle’s sheet music.
From my mother I received outer light, the kind that casts its glow over and around objects. My mother was like the lamp that was now mine: Her own energetic light bounced off her, flinging itself around those she loved like a cape, wrapping them tightly and holding them firmly through forceful deeds, not tender words. Though she had difficulty touching hearts, she knew how to get things done. So she showed her love through action; she knew no other way. Had she been a yogini, Karma Yoga, the yoga of action, might have resonated with her.
My uncle, conversely, gave me his inner light, brought to life in the worn and faded music that he had loved. I could feel his joy as I perused the pages, my eyes falling upon every breath mark, every margin scribble, every creased corner. I remembered our duets and something inside me broke loose and softened, yielding to the imprint of his music upon my heart. Had he been a yogi, Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion, would have been ideal for my uncle.
In my mind, their two lights, inner and outer, combined into one whole, each needing the other to be complete.
In one perfect word: Namaste.
Or, simply put: The light and Divine in me bows to and honors the light and Divine in you.
And so, to my mother and to my uncle, who gave me their Divine lights, I bow deeply before you, honoring all you have been to me.
Namaste. And may you rest in harmony…and peace…and joy.
I received a phone inquiry today about my yoga class. The woman on the end of the line was hesitant, stumbling over her words as she rattled through a slew of questions that seemed to lead up to her real reason for calling. Finally she blurted, “I’m just so nervous about doing this. I’m not at all flexible.”
I’m as guilty as the rest of the yoga community for perpetuating the myth of bendy-flexy practitioners at the expense of spiritual growth. I’ll often post photos of myself in stretched-out, tricked-out poses, smiling serenely as I casually toss my leg over my head. I’ll admit it: yoga PR wouldn’t be as sexy without the promise of physical perfection in the form of a tight yoga butt.
But the truth is that asana (physical practice) is only one small part of the full yoga experience; in fact, some would argue it ranks among the least important aspects. Pantajali, in the Yoga Sutras, describes eight limbs of yoga in the following order:
- Yama: Universal morality (how we deal with those around us)
- Niyama: Personal observances (how we deal with ourselves)
- Asanas: Body postures (the common Western view of yoga)
- Pranayama: Breathing exercises and control of prana (life force)
- Pratyahara: Control of the senses
- Dharana: Concentration and cultivating inner awareness
- Dhyana: Devotion and meditation on the Divine
- Samadhi: Union and connection with the Divine, bliss
Check it out: Asanas lie near the beginning of the path toward Samadhi, not the end. The real reason for developing a strong asana practice is to prepare the body to focus the mind. Poses deliberately become more challenging in order to keep the mind fixed upon the task at hand. Those who practice regularly know how easily one falls out of a posture as soon as the thoughts wander. Still, under the tutelage of a good teacher, asanas can eventually be learned and their full benefits received, even if the execution never quite achieves magazine-perfect showiness.
Far more difficult for a teacher is passing on yoga’s enormous spiritual and emotional benefits. What makes it especially tough is that internal growth simply can’t be demonstrated graphically. I can post of photo of me in headstand, but I can’t post a similar one of me cultivating my inner awareness. There’s no visual cheat sheet. And truthfully, spiritual development eventually becomes a self-guided journey no matter how good the teacher; each of us must find our own way in our own time.
When I tried to convince the caller that physical flexibility didn’t matter, I touched a bit on yoga’s spiritual aspect. That seemed to throw her off balance because she hung up fairly quickly. I doubt I’ll see her in my class anytime soon.
No matter. The fact that she called, reaching out to explore a new experience, is a sign that she is seeking and questioning, consciously or not. One day, she will discover her personal inner and outer gurus, the ones that resonate with her, and she will, I hope, follow their call.
In the meantime, I’ll meditate upon how to effectively convey the significance of the other seven limbs of yoga – without showing off my own.
The first time someone hurled a racial slur at me and meant it playfully. I was confused, unsure whether to feel insulted or to laugh.
The first time someone hurled a racial slur at me and meant it hatefully.
The first time I accepted being called derogatory names…and even joked about it.
When my mother found and read my private journal and threw it at me when I arrived home, furious, calling me a whore and slut. I stopped writing for years.
When my father got falling-down drunk and talked to me candidly, as an adult and as an equal, about my mother.
The first time extraordinarily beautiful music emerged, silky and sensuous, from my clarinet. I remember the scene vividly: a simple challenge in the band room, yet my interpretation stilled the room. Even the director had to “take a moment.” I was trembling, overcome with emotion, as the last note sounded.
My first standing ovation, flushed, hot, pumped, proud that my music had touched others, loving the thrill of performing solo.
The first time my brother threatened me and all I did was cry and acquiesce, scared by the menace on his face.
The first time my brother touched me and I didn’t say no. I didn’t even beg or plead. I just disappeared into myself.
The first time I had sex. I wondered if I could enjoy physical play absent coercion. I could. I did.
The first time I made love, late into adulthood. Until then, I’d had affectionate sex, caring sex, even loving sex…but it was not making love and I refused to call it that until it really happened.
When my sons were born, inhaling their wonderful baby scent, eyes closed and dreamy, loving the feel of them, the weight of them, lying so warm and trustingly in my arms.
When the plane landed and a beautiful baby girl, smiling, bright-eyed, cheery, was carried out to meet us, to join our family.
The phone call to let me know my father was dying. The sadness knowing he had barely lived, so controlled was he.
Finding the strength to walk away from a bad first marriage. Striking out on my own with nothing but optimism and faith in myself.
The moment my second marriage died in my heart, long ago, too long ago. I overstayed my welcome by about 10 years. I should have trusted my instincts.
The moment my second marriage died officially, sitting alone in a judge’s chamber with a box of tissues placed before me. I felt nothing. Not sadness, not happiness, not relief. Nothing. No tears, no tissues required. Dead. I was emotionally dead.
Coming back to life post-divorce, giving my heart, completely and forever, to someone, trusting his earnest words that he would care for it – and me – tenderly and always.
Reeling my heart back in, terribly slowly, painfully, and in teeny-tiny pieces when he no longer wanted it.
The first time yoga brought me peace and then awfully close to bliss.
The first time I overcame my horrific fear of public speaking to share my love for yoga.
Owning my first home with no co-signer, no fall back person, no safety net. I had vaguely expected bells and confetti with the stroke of my pen. What I’ve gotten, however, are bells and confetti everyday, wrapping me in the joy of having a place to call my own.
Discovering being alone is pretty darned wonderful. It’s far better than being alone in a relationship. And the covers are the perfect weight, warm, enveloping, just the way I like them.
A big letdown: I threw a beach yoga party and no one came.
I had told my friends to stay away for my first teaching outing, just in case I choked. But I forgot: this weekend was chock-full of Earth Day celebrations, including the big county-sponsored festival in the park across the street, which offered free yoga during the exact same hour. Yesterday’s timing, obviously, sucked.
Fortunately, Brainiac and his best friend, my Fourth Child, had insisted on coming. So I gave them a private class for my own practice, pace and rhythm. Turns out I had more than an hour’s worth of material (whew!) and everything flowed far more smoothly than I’d imagined.
Next time (for there will be a next time), everyone’s invited. No more fear (well, maybe a little trepidation).
It’s been the work week from hell.
This morning, I did the unthinkable: I actually closed my office door and turned off the phone. I was racing against the clock to complete a major site plan review for today’s meeting: a nine-acre campus that involves four new buildings, two existing zoning districts, one proposed overlay district that may or may not be adopted but needed to be considered, a community redevelopment district, a new set of design guidelines, and coordination between county and state transportation agencies, fire, police, engineering, building and landscaping.
It’s been so hectic that I couldn’t even visit the site until yesterday, given my absurdly shortened time frame for the review. Between other deadlines, citizen drop ins, phone calls, meetings and suddenly becoming the planning point person for the revamped licensing procedures, my work days have been filled with way too many “top priorities.”
So yeah, I was a little stressed.
But it all worked out.
Exhausted after the two-hour meeting (and everything leading up to it), I decided to mentally chill for the last hour of the day, straightening my overturned office, folding up site plans, humming the Merry Widow waltz (Lippen Schweigen) as I organized.
My friend, the cleaning man, heard me humming as he emptied trash cans. “That melody is beautiful,” he said. “So romantic.”
I told him it had been replaying in my head since last night’s concert. And I agreed: the melody is impossibly romantic. As we chatted, I admitted to my friend that being single isn’t so bad, except for when I go to concerts. When the music fills me with longing, that’s when I wish I had someone special to wrap up in.
My first husband, for all his faults, was my only romantic partner who shared this concert-going love with me, the only one whose shoulder was available as we both thrilled to a performance. He, more than I, would seek musical opportunities everywhere and anywhere, ferreting out indoor concerts, outdoor concerts, ballets, operas…throughout the state and beyond. Frequently he’d appear at my office after work, pizza box nestled in the front seat of the car. “Hop in,” he’d say. “The Chicago Symphony’s in Austin. I bought tickets for us.” And off we’d go.
After his own concerts, my first husband would be restless, wired, adrenaline coursing through him. We’d stroll along San Antonio’s Riverwalk, which was far less manicured in those days, reliving the concert’s highlights, sharing cheesecake at Kangaroo Court or enjoying jazz, extra-spicy, at The Landing, where some of our friends played. Our lives revolved around the arts, especially music.
I don’t miss him, for too many painful reasons, tortured musician angst being among them. But I do miss having a romantic musical partner-in-crime.
In the early stages of our relationship, The Ex tried. He really did. But his boredom was so palpable that it ruined the concerts for me. I could almost see the stopwatch ticking down in his head as he impatiently waited for the last note to sound, itching to hurry home where a project always awaited. Lingering over coffee, rehashing the concert afterwards, sharing a meal or a moment was not ever a remote possibility with him.
I quickly released him (and me) from any and all concert-going obligations. Fortunately, I’ve found good friends who share my musical proclivities. We have fun together. Sometimes, if we’re being particularly decadent, we’ll begin the evening with a pre-concert dinner and end with a post-concert dessert. We talk, we laugh, we share, we sigh.
But I don’t rest my head on their shoulders when the music touches my soul.
Tonight marked the end of the symphony season. As usual, the orchestra put on a jolly good show, a perennial favorite featuring a fast-paced mix of arias, show tunes and other delights. I arrived late, racing in from counseling with Girlfriend and an unexpected battle involving a parking meter and my debit card. I landed in my seat just in time for the downbeat: the gorgeous waltz from Lehar’s The Merry Widow, breathtakingly supple. As part of the festivities, guest dancers swayed and twirled in the narrow passage between the conductor and the stage’s edge.
The singers were marvelous, all of them, richly nuanced and engaging. Broadway’s original Phantom from Phantom of the Opera rendered Music of the Night so lyrically and touchingly that shivers rolled up and down my spine. I closed my eyes, wished for a shoulder to lean on.
And then, near the end of the concert, to my absolute delight…the boisterous Drinking Song (Libiamo…) from La Traviata. Bravo!
Life has been a little hectic lately. It felt wonderfully relaxing to step out of time and into the music.
And yeah, I confess…cookies and champagne certainly took the edge off, too.